Lazy predator: A new species of mountain pit viper from China

Ovophis jenkinsi is dark brownish-grey, with trapezoidal patches on its back. It is endemic to China’s Yingjiang County and is not difficult to find in the wild.

Yunnan, China is a biodiversity hotspot, with many new reptile species discovered in the region in recent years. It is also where a research team from China found a new species of medium-sized venomous snake, known as a mountain pit viper.

Ovophis jenkinsi. Photo by Xianchun Qiu

“We checked specimens of the [snake] genus Ovophis collected by Institute of Zoology, Chinese Academy of Sciences and Beijing Forestry University in Yingjiang, Yunnan in 2008, and found that these specimens were different from all known similar species. We collected some new specimens from Yingjiang in 2023 and finally determined that this population represents a new species!” the researchers explained.

The new species was named Ovophis jenkinsi in honour of herpetologist Robert “Hank” William Garfield Jenkins AM (September 1947−September 2023), who had “a passion for snakes, especially pit vipers, and helped China, along with many Asian countries, complete snake census, conservation, and management projects,” the team writes in their study, which was published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

A specimen of Ovophis jenkinsi from Yingjiang, Yunnan, China. Photo by Xianchun Qiu

Ovophis jenkinsi is generally dark brownish-grey, but some individuals can be deep orange-brown, and has trapezoidal patches on its back. “It is usually slow-moving but shows great aggression when disturbed,” the researchers explain after observing the snake’s behaviour. “When threatened, these snakes inflate their bodies to make themselves appear larger and strike quickly.”

There are no records to date of humans being bitten by this species.

The only known habitat of Ovophis jenkinsi, the tropical montane rainforest in Yingjiang, Yunnan, China. Photo by Xiaojun Gu

Like many other species, this snake is endemic to China’s Yingjiang County, which means it is currently found only there. “It is not difficult to find this species in the wild, they are active mainly in the autumn and prefer cool, humid, and even rainy nights, probably to avoid competition with other snakes,” the researchers say, suggesting it might feed on small mammals.

“We will be collecting more information about O. jenkinsi in the future, including their appearance, distribution, and habits, to improve our understanding of this species,” the researchers say in conclusion.

Research article:

Qiu X-C, Wang J-Z, Xia Z-Y, Jiang Z-W, Zeng Y, Wang N, Li P-P, Shi J-S (2024) A new mountain pitviper of the genus Ovophis Burger in Hoge & Romano-Hoge, 1981 (Serpentes, Viperidae) from Yunnan, China. ZooKeys 1203: 173-187. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1203.119218


Pensoft launches official Weibo account to expand global reach

The Pensoft team is looking forward to engaging in conversations with its Chinese authors, editors, and readers.

Scholarly publisher Pensoft is excited to announce it is now on Chinese social media platform Weibo. The move is aimed at fostering stronger connections with researchers, academics, and enthusiasts in China, which in turn will enhance the dissemination of scientific knowledge and facilitate international collaboration.

With over half a billion active users, Weibo is a powerful social media platform that combines the functionalities of microblogging and social networking. The Pensoft team is looking forward to engaging in real-time conversations with its Chinese audience, sharing insights, and receiving their feedback.

The launch coincides with the Dragon Boat Festival, a significant cultural event in China that commemorates the ancient poet Qu Yuan and symbolizes unity and teamwork. 

The move aims to make Pensoft’s publications and updates more accessible to Chinese researchers, allowing them to stay informed about the latest scientific discoveries and advancements. In addition, it offers an excellent opportunity for Pensoft to foster collaborations with Chinese institutions, researchers, and academic societies.

As a pioneer in open-access publishing, Pensoft will also use its Weibo account to promote the benefits of open access, making sure Chinese research reaches a global audience without paywalls.

“China, with its rapidly growing research output and a burgeoning community of scholars, represents a significant segment of the global academic landscape. Recognizing the importance of engaging with this vibrant community, Pensoft’s decision to establish a presence on Weibo underscores its commitment to inclusivity and accessibility in scientific publishing,” says Lyubomir Penev, CEO and founder of Pensoft.

We invite you to join Pensoft’s Weibo account to learn all about our latest scientific discoveries and publishing updates.

Captivating blue-colored ant discovered in India’s remote Siang Valley

It was named Paraparatrechina neela, after the word “neela”, which means blue in various Indian languages.

Nothing like the common red, black, or brown ants, a stunning blue ant has been discovered from Yingku village in Arunachal Pradesh, northeastern India. This new species belongs to the rare genus Paraparatrechina and has been named Paraparatrechina neela. The word “neela” signifies the color blue in most Indian languages – a fitting tribute to the ant’s unique coloration.

Entomologists Dr. Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan and Sahanashree R, from Ashoka Trust for Research in Ecology and the Environment (ATREE) in Bengaluru, along with Aswaj Punnath from the University of Florida, collaborated to describe the remarkable new species. Their scientific description of the ant is published in the open-access journal ZooKeys.

Paraparatrechina neela. Photo by Sahanashree R

“While exploring a tree hole about 10 feet up in a steep cattle track in the remote Yinku village one evening, something sparkled in the twilight. With the dim light available, two insects were sucked into an aspirator. To our surprise, we later found they were ants” said the researchers.

The ant was found during an expedition to Siang valley in Arunachal Pradesh to resurvey its biodiversity after the century-old ‘Abhor expedition’. The original Abor expedition from the period of colonial rule in India was a punitive military expedition against the indigenous people there in 1911-1912. A scientific team also accompanied the military expedition, to document the natural history and geography of the Siang Valley. Тhis expedition encountered several challenges, including hostile terrain, difficult weather conditions, and resistance from local tribes. Despite the challenges, it managed to explore and map large parts of the Siang Valley region, cataloguing every plant, frog, lizard, fish, bird & mammal and insects they found, with the discoveries published in several volumes from 1912 to 1922 in the Records of the Indian Museum.

A view of Suabg Valley. Photo by Ranjith AP

Now, a century later, a team of researchers  from ATREE and a documentation team from Felis Creations Bangalore have embarked on a series of expeditions under the banner “Siang Expedition”, to resurvey and document the biodiver­sity of the region. This expedition was funded by the National Geographic Society through the wild­life-conservation expedition grant.

“Nestled within a Himalayan biodiversity hotspot, Arunachal Pradesh’s Siang Valley presents a world of unparalleled diversity, much of it yet to be explored. However, this very richness, both cultural and ecological, faces unprecedented threats. Large-scale infrastructure projects like dams, highways, and military installations, along with climate change, are rapidly altering the valley. The impact extends beyond the valley itself, as these mountains play a critical role not only in sustaining their own diverse ecosystems but also in ensuring the well-being of millions of people living downstream”, said Priyadarsanan Dharma Rajan, corresponding author of the paper.

Paraparatrechina neela is a small ant with a total length of less than 2mm. Its body is predominantly metallic blue, except for the antennae, mandibles, and legs. The head is subtriangular with large eyes, and has a triangular mouthpart (mandible) featuring five teeth. This species has a distinct metallic blue colour that is different from any other species in its genus.

Paraparatrechina neela. Photo by Sahanashree R

Blue is relatively rare in the animal kingdom. Various groups of vertebrates, including fish, frogs, and birds, as well as invertebrates such as spiders and flies and wasps, showcase blue coloration. In insects, it is often produced by the arrangement of biological photonic nanostructures, which create structural colours rather than being caused by pigments. While blue coloration is commonly observed in some insects like butterflies, beetles, bees, and wasps, it is relatively rare in ants. Out of the 16,724 known species and subspecies of ants worldwide, only a few exhibit blue coloration or iridescence.

The discovery of Paraparatrechina neela contributes to the richness of ant diversity and represents the unique biodiversity of the Eastern Himalayas, and its blue coloration raises intriguing questions. Does it help in communication, camouflage, or other ecological interactions? Delving into the evolution of this conspicuous coloration and its connections to elevation and the biology of Paraparatrechina neela presents an exciting avenue for research.

Research article:
Sahanashree R, Punnath A, Rajan Priyadarsanan D (2024) A remarkable new species of Paraparatrechina Donisthorpe (1947) (Hymenoptera, Formicidae, Formicinae) from the Eastern Himalayas, India. ZooKeys 1203: 159-172. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1203.114168

How to ensure biodiversity data are FAIR, linked, open and future-proof?

Now concluded Horizon 2020-funded project BiCIKL shares lessons learned with policy-makers and research funders

Within the Biodiversity Community Integrated Knowledge Library (BiCIKL) project, 14 European institutions from ten countries, spent the last three years elaborating on services and high-tech digital tools, in order to improve the findability, accessibility, interoperability and reusability (FAIR-ness) of various types of data about the world’s biodiversity. These types of data include peer-reviewed scientific literature, occurrence records, natural history collections, DNA data and more.

By ensuring all those data are readily available and efficiently interlinked to each other, the project consortium’s intention is to provide better tools to the scientific community, so that it can more rapidly and effectively study, assess, monitor and preserve Earth’s biological diversity in line with the objectives of the likes of the EU Biodiversity Strategy for 2030 and the European Green Deal. Their targets require openly available, precise and harmonised data to underpin the design of effective measures for restoration and conservation, reminds the BiCIKL consortium.

Since 2021, the project partners at BiCIKL have been working together to elaborate existing workflows and links, as well as create brand new ones, so that their data resources, platforms and tools can seamlessly communicate with each other, thereby taking the burden off the shoulders of scientists and letting them focus on their actual mission: paving the way to healthy and sustainable ecosystems across Europe and beyond.

Now that the three-year project is officially over, the wider scientific community is yet to reap the fruits of the consortium’s efforts. In fact, the end of the BiCIKL project marks the actual beginning of a European- and global-wide revolution in the way biodiversity scientists access, use and produce data. It is time for the research community, as well as all actors involved in the study of biodiversity and the implementation of regulations necessary to protect and preserve it, to embrace the lessons learned, adopt the good practices identified and build on the knowledge in existence.

This is why amongst the BiCIKL’s major final research outputs, there are two Policy Briefs meant to summarise and highlight important recommendations addressed to key policy makers, research institutions and funders of research. After all, it is the regulatory bodies that are best equipped to share and implement best practices and guidelines.

Most recently, the BiCIKL consortium published two particularly important policy briefs, both addressed to the likes of the European Commission’s Directorate-General for Environment; the European Environment Agency; the Joint Research Centre; as well as science and policy interface platforms, such as the EU Biodiversity Platform; and also organisations and programmes, e.g. Biodiversa+ and EuropaBON, which are engaged in biodiversity monitoring, protection and restoration. The policy briefs are also to be of particular use to national research funds in the European Union.

One of the newly published policy briefs, titled “Uniting FAIR data through interlinked, machine-actionable infrastructures”, highlights the potential benefits derived from enhanced connectivity and interoperability among various types of biodiversity data. The publication includes a list of recommendations addressed to policy-makers, as well as nine key action points. Understandably, amongst the main themes are those of wider international cooperation; inclusivity and collaboration at scale; standardisation and bringing science and policy closer to industry. Another major outcome of the BiCIKL project: the Biodiversity Knowledge Hub portal is noted as central to many of these objectives and tasks in its role of a knowledge broker that will continue to be maintained and updated with additional FAIR data-compliant services as a living legacy of the collaborative efforts at BiCIKL.

The second policy brief, titled “Liberate the power of biodiversity literature as FAIR digital objects”, shares key actions that can liberate data published in non-machine actionable formats and non-interoperable platforms, so that those data can also be efficiently accessed and used; as well as ways to publish future data according to the best FAIR and linked data practices. The recommendations highlighted in the policy brief intend to support decision-making in Europe; expedite research by making biodiversity data immediately and globally accessible; provide curated data ready to use by AI applications; and bridge gaps in the life cycle of research data through digital-born data. Several new and innovative workflows, linkages and integrative mechanisms and services developed within BiCIKL are mentioned as key advancements created to access and disseminate data available from scientific literature. 

While all policy briefs and factsheets – both primarily targeted at non-expert decision-makers who play a central role in biodiversity research and conservation efforts – are openly and freely available on the project’s website, the most important contributions were published as permanent scientific records in a BiCIKL-branded dedicated collection in the peer-reviewed open-science journal Research Ideas and Outcomes (RIO). There, the policy briefs are provided as both a ready-to-print document (available as supplementary material) and an extensive academic publication.

Currently, the collection: “Towards interlinked FAIR biodiversity knowledge: The BiCIKL perspective” in the RIO journal contains 60 publications, including policy briefs, project reports, methods papers, conference abstracts, demonstrating and highlighting key milestones and project outcomes from along the BiCIKL’s journey in the last three years. The collection also features over 15 scientific publications authored by people not necessarily involved in BiCIKL, but whose research uses linked open data and tools created in BiCIKL. Their publications were published in a dedicated article collection in the Biodiversity Data Journal.

***

Visit the Biodiversity Community Integrated Knowledge Library (BiCIKL) project’s website at: https://bicikl-project.eu/.

Don’t forget to also explore the Biodiversity Knowledge Hub (BKH) for yourself at: https://biodiversityknowledgehub.eu/ and watch the BKH’s introduction video

Highlights from the BiCIKL project are also accessible on Twitter/X from the project’s hashtag: #BiCIKL_H2020 and handle: @BiCIKL_H2020.

Pensoft wishes “Happy 90th birthday!” to thrips expert Dr. Laurence Mound

To date, Dr. Laurence Mound is the most prolific thrips researcher in history and has made monumental contributions to the field.

Today, Pensoft celebrates one of its most distinguished editors and the world’s leading authority on thrips: Dr. Laurence Mound on the occasion of his 90th birthday.

Born in Willesden, London, on 22 April 1934, Dr. Mound is considered a world authority in the field. Having received his PhD from the University of London, he has been studying the biology and systematics of the order Thysanoptera for more than six decades. His academic recognitions include honorary membership at both the Royal and the Australian Entomological societies.

To date, Dr. Laurence Mound is the most prolific thrips researcher in history and has made monumental contributions to the field as the author of 500 publications, including landmark papers that have since shaped our understanding of the taxonomy and evolution of thrips. He has also published a number of books on thrip identification and control.

Having worked with admirable devotion and persistence to advance the knowledge of thrips on a global scale, Dr. Mound has described over 700 species and 100 genera. His studies have helped with species identifications in important pest groups, which in turn has had a pivotal role in the management of pests and the prevention of the establishment of new pest species.

One of the first-ever entomologists to join the ZooKeys editorial team, Mound has been the journal’s go-to editor for the order Thysanoptera for more than a decade. He oversaw the publication of 18 research papers at ZooKeys. He has also authored 11 articles in the journal, including especially valuable identification keys of different taxa from across the globe. He has also been one of the journal’s active reviewers.

Other journals published by Pensoft have also benefited from Mound’s invaluable scientific contributions. Over the years, the renowned thrips expert has also been an author, reviewer, and editor at Deutsche Entomologische Zeitschrift, Biodiversity Data Journal, Check List and Journal of Orthoptera Research.

“As a founder of ZooKeys, I’d like to specially congratulate Laurence on his 90th anniversary and personally thank him for his admirable involvement in our beloved journal. I cannot stress it enough how central dedicated and passionate scientists like him are to have a journal establish itself as a top-quality community-led resource of knowledge. As a fellow entomologist, I’d like to wish him health and good fortune for many years to come; and may the devotion and fascination you have invested in the field extend to each and every aspect of your life!”

says Prof. Dr. Lyubomir Penev, founder/CEO of Pensoft and founding editor of ZooKeys.

“As Editor-in-Chief of ZooKeys, I wish you a ‘Happy 90th birthday!’ and thank you for your dedication and support of the journal since its very early days,”

says Dr. Torsten Dikow, Editor-in-Chief at ZooKeys and research entomologist and curator at the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History (USA).

“It was Laurence Mound who suggested my name to replace him as subject editor for Thysanoptera at ZooKeys five years ago. Since then, Laurence has actively continued to be a major contributor of both papers and reviews to the journal. It is an honour to share his friendship and to be able to continually receive his support, encouragement and guidance over the years. I would like to express my gratitude and wish an excellent birthday to this researcher who inspires all of us who study Thysanoptera and entomology in general,”

says Prof. Dr. Elison Lima, Adjunct professor at Universidade Federal do Piauí (Brazil) and fellow thrips expert.

“We are truly honoured to have been working with Laurence all these years! His passion and dedication have left a permanent mark on the field of entomology. We toast to the future success and happiness of a dear friend, editor, and author. May his work continue to inspire many more generations of entomologists and conservationists,”

adds Pensoft’s editorial team.

Leptanilla voldemort, a ghostly slender new ant species from the dark depths of the underground

Its name pays homage to the dark wizard Lord Voldemort, the fearsome antagonist of the Harry Potter series, drawing parallels with the ant’s ghostly appearance.

In the sun-scorched Pilbara region of north-western Australia, scientists have unearthed a mysterious creature from the shadows – a new ant species of the elusive genus Leptanilla.

The new species, Leptanilla voldemort – L. voldemort for short – is a pale ant with a slender build, spindly legs, and long, sharp mandibles. The species name pays homage to the dark wizard Lord Voldemort, the fearsome antagonist of the Harry Potter series, drawing parallels with the ant’s ghostly and slender appearance, and the dark underground environment, from which it has emerged.

Scientists Dr Mark Wong of the University of Western Australia and Jane McRae of Bennelongia Environmental Consultants describe the enigmatic new species in a paper published in the open access journal ZooKeys.

Leptanilla voldemort was discovered during an ecological survey to document animals living belowground in the arid Pilbara region of north-western Australia. Only two specimens of the bizarre new ant species were found. Both were collected in a net that was lowered down a 25-metre drill hole and skilfully retrieved while scraping against the hole’s inner surface – an innovative technique for collecting underground organisms known as ‘subterranean scraping’.

A general landscape of the Pilbara region.

Compared to other Leptanilla antspecies, L. voldemort has an extremely slender body as well as long, spindly antennae and legs. Together with its collection from a 25-metre-deep drill hole, this unusual morphologyhas left experts speculating as to whether it truly dwells in soil like other Leptanilla species, or exploits a different subterranean refuge, such as the air-filled voids and cracks that form within layers of rock deeper underground.

Leptanilla voldemort.

The long, sharp jaws of L. voldemort, however, leave little to the imagination.

Leptanilla voldemort is almost surely a predator, a fearsome hunter in the dark. This is backed up by what we know from the few observations of specialised hunting behaviours in other Leptanilla antspecies, where the tiny workers use their sharp jaws and powerful stings to immobilise soil-dwelling centipedes much larger than them, before carrying their larvae over to feed on the carcass” said Dr Wong, lead author of the study.

A full-face view of Leptanilla voldemort, showing its sharp mandibles.

The exact prey of L. voldemort, however, is not known, though a variety of other subterranean invertebrates, including centipedes, beetles and flies, were collected from the same locality.

There are over 14,000 species of ants worldwide, but only about 60 belong to the enigmatic genus Leptanilla. Unlike most ants, all species of Leptanilla are hypogaeic – their small colonies, usually comprising a queen and only a hundred or so workers, nest and forage exclusively underground. To adapt to life in darkness, Leptanilla workers are blind and colourless. The lilliputian members of the ant world, these ants measure just 1 to 2 millimetres – not much larger than a grain of sand – allowing them to move effortlessly through the soil. Due to their miniscule size, pale colouration, and unique underground dwellings, finding Leptanilla species is a challenge even for expert ant scientists, and much of their biology remains shrouded in mystery.

While Australia boasts some of the highest levels of ant diversity in the world – with estimates ranging from 1,300 to over 5,000 species – L. voldemort is only the second Leptanilla species discovered from the continent. The first, Leptanilla swani, was described nearly a century ago – from a small colony found under a rock in 1931 – and has almost never been seen since.

With its formation beginning approximately 3.6 billion years ago, the Pilbara is one of the oldest land surfaces on Earth. Despite the scorching summers and meagre rainfall, the region harbours globally important radiations of underground invertebrates. Adding to the unique biodiversity of this ancient landscape, the discovery of the enigmatic ant L. voldemort is a testament to the wizardry of nature and the mysteries of life in the depths of darkness.

Research article:

Wong MKL, McRae JM (2024) Leptanilla voldemort sp. nov., a gracile new species of the hypogaeic ant genus Leptanilla (Hymenoptera, Formicidae) from the Pilbara, with a key to Australian Leptanilla. ZooKeys 1197: 171-182. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1197.114072

NOAA Fisheries Zoologist Describes New Fish Species

Dr. Katherine Bemis of the National Systematics Laboratory recently helped describe a new species of fish, the papillated redbait.

New species alert! Dr. Katherine Bemis of NOAA Fisheries’ National Systematics Laboratory and her collaborators recently described a new fish species: Emmelichthys papillatus, or the papillated redbait. Its discovery was published in the journal ZooKeys.

Emmelichthys papillatus. Photograph by the Kagoshima University Museum

The papillated redbait is a member of the family Emmelichthyidae. There are only 18 known species in this family, which are commonly called redbaits, rovers, or rubyfishes. These deepwater species can be found in warm, tropical waters and are usually bright shades of red, orange, and pink.

How did Bemis and her team make this remarkable discovery? To find out, we’ll have to first travel to a fish market in the Philippines.

A molecular mystery

As part of an interagency campaign to create a reference library of fish DNA “barcodes,” Bemis and her colleagues regularly travel abroad to collect fish specimens. Some come from seafood markets overseas where they are being sold for food. In the field, these new specimens are assigned a preliminary species identification. Then, they’re transported to the Smithsonian Institution and National Systematics Laboratory for genetic sequencing, data collection, and a secondary species confirmation.

Dr. Katherine Bemis holds the holotype–the specimen upon which a new species’ description is based–of the papillated redbait. Credit: Haley Randall/NOAA Fisheries

Since getting involved with this project in 2021, Bemis and teammate Dr. Matthew Girard of the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History have analyzed thousands of samples. None have made a bigger splash, though, than two small pink fish collected from a Philippine fish market on the island of Cebu.

While collecting data from these specimens, Girard made an exciting observation. Their genetic sequences did not match their initial species identification as golden redbaits—or any other species in the genetic library, for that matter. So which species did Girard and Bemis have on their hands?

Dr. Matthew Girard examines the holotype of the papillated redbait under a microscope. Credit: Dr. Katherine Bemis. Source NOAA Fisheries

In search of answers, Bemis and Girard examined other aspects of the specimens’ biology, including their anatomy. They discovered that these fish differed from the golden redbait in several ways, including:

  • A different number of gill rakers, structures inside the mouth that help fish to feed
  • A different number of pectoral fin rays
  • Two fleshy structures called papillae on the pectoral girdle

These differences, combined with the genetic data, provided evidence that the two specimens were not golden redbaits, but a previously undiscovered species. With only two confirmed specimens, Bemis and Girard wondered if other individuals could be identified in global natural history collections.

Underneath the gill cover, you can observe the two characteristic papillae (singular: papilla) of the papillated redbait labeled with arrows (left). The closely-related golden redbait lacks papillae in the same area (right). Photos courtesy of Dr. Matthew Girard. Source NOAA Fisheries

After some detective work, Bemis and Girard spotted a third specimen they hypothesized might also be the undescribed species. A fish with similar color also identified as a golden redbait had been collected from a fish market in the Philippines by the Kagoshima University Museum in Japan. Bemis and Girard studied the specimen and confirmed their hypothesis with genetic and anatomical data. This specimen became the third record of papillated redbait and, ultimately, the holotype for the species—the specimen upon which a new species description is based.

More to discover

Even after describing new species, there’s always more to learn. Bemis and Girard are energized that there is still much to discover about the papillated redbait and the redbait family, which is relatively poorly known. Any opportunity to add to this small body of knowledge and study redbait species in greater detail is valuable. “I’ve had researchers that work on fish taxonomy say to me, ‘I didn’t even know this family existed.’ That’s how little we know about this group,” Girard emphasizes.

Bemis also notes that because data on the papillated redbait comes from only three specimens purchased in fish markets, she still has lots of questions. For example, Bemis says that they don’t yet know if the new species occurs outside Philippine waters, or the exact habitat in which they occur. “We also don’t know anything about their reproduction or what they eat—really basic aspects of their biology remain to be studied. Now that we recognize that it is different, we only have more to study as new specimens of papillated redbait are collected,” Bemis says.

“It is always a happy and productive moment working with U.S. scientists,” says Dr. Mudjekeewis “Mudjie” Santos of the Philippine National Fisheries Research and Development Institute. Santos was instrumental in the collection of specimens, providing fisheries data on the papillated redbait, and coining a name for the new species in Tagalog, the national language of the Philippines. Here, he examines fish in a Philippine market. Photo courtesy of Dr. Mudjekeewis Santos. Source NOAA Fisheries

One thing is for certain, though. There are more species just waiting to be discovered, and they might be right under our noses. “I think the craziest thing is that the papillated redbait is a new species that came from a market,” Girard says. “The fact that there are undescribed species being sold without us even realizing it underscores how much we still have to learn about marine biodiversity.”

Research article:

Girard MG, Santos MD, Bemis KE (2024) New species of redbait from the Philippines (Teleostei, Emmelichthyidae, Emmelichthys). ZooKeys 1196: 95-109. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1196.111161

This story was originally published by NOAA Fisheries. It is republished here with their permission.

Pensoft took a BiCIKL ride to Naturalis to report on a 3-year endeavour towards FAIR data

Three years ago, the BiCIKL consortium took to traverse obstacles to wider use and adoption of FAIR and linked biodiversity data.

Leiden – also known as the ‘City of Keys’ and the ‘City of Discoveries’ – was aptly chosen to host the third Empowering Biodiversity Research (EBR III) conference. The two-day conference – this time focusing on the utilisation of biodiversity data as a vehicle for biodiversity research to reach to Policy – was held in a no less fitting locality: the Naturalis Biodiversity Center

On 25th and 26th March 2024, the delegates got the chance to learn more about the latest discoveries, trends and innovations from scientists, as well as various stakeholders, including representatives of policy-making bodies, research institutions and infrastructures. The conference also ran a poster session and a Biodiversity Informatics market, where scientists, research teams, project consortia, and providers of biodiversity research-related services and tools could showcase their work and meet like-minded professionals.

BiCIKL stops at the Naturalis Biodiversity Center

The main outcome of the BiCIKL project: the Biodiversity Knowledge Hub, a one-stop knowledge portal to interlinked and machine-readable FAIR data.

The famous for its bicycle friendliness country also made a suitable stop for BiCIKL (an acronym for the Biodiversity Community Integrated Knowledge Library): a project funded under the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 programme that aimed at triggering a culture change in the way users access, (re)use, publish and share biodiversity data. To do this, the BiCIKL consortium set off on a 3-year journey to build on the existing biodiversity data infrastructures, workflows, standards and the linkages between them.

Many of the people who have been involved in the project over the last three years could be seen all around the beautiful venue. Above all, Naturalis is itself one of the partnering institutions at BiCIKL. Then, on Tuesday, on behalf of the BiCIKL consortium and the project’s coordinator: the scientific publisher and technology innovator: Pensoft, Iva Boyadzhieva presented the work done within the project one month ahead of its official conclusion at the end of April.

As she talked about the way the BiCIKL consortium took to traverse obstacles to wider use and adoption of FAIR and linked biodiversity data, she focused on BiCIKL’s main outcome: the Biodiversity Knowledge Hub (BKH).

Key results from the BiCIKL project three years into its existence presented by Pensoft’s Iva Boyadzhieva at the EBR III conference.

Intended to act as a knowledge broker for users who wish to navigate and access sources of open and FAIR biodiversity data, guidelines, tools and services, in practicality, the BKH is a one-stop portal for understanding the complex but increasingly interconnected landscape of biodiversity research infrastructures in Europe and beyond. It collates information, guidelines, recommendations and best practices in usage of FAIR and linked biodiversity data, as well as a continuously expanded catalogue of compliant relevant services and tools.

At the core of the BKH is the FAIR Data Place (FDP), where users can familiarise themselves with each of the participating biodiversity infrastructures and network organisations, and also learn about the specific services they provide. There, anyone can explore various biodiversity data tools and services by browsing by their main data type, e.g. specimens, sequences, taxon names, literature.

While the project might be coming to an end, she pointed out, the BKH is here to stay as a navigation system in a universe of interconnected biodiversity research infrastructures.

To do this, not only will the partners continue to maintain it, but it will also remain open to any research infrastructure that wishes to feature its own tools and services compliant with the linked and FAIR data requirements set by the BiCIKL consortium.

On the event’s website you can access the BiCIKL’s slides presentation as presented at the EBR III conference.

What else was on at the EBR III?

Indisputably, the ‘hot’ topics at the EBR III were the novel technologies for remote and non-invasive, yet efficient biomonitoring; the utilisation of data and other input sourced by citizen scientists; as well as leveraging different types and sources of biodiversity data, in order to better inform decision-makers, but also future-proof the scientific knowledge we have collected and generated to date.

Project’s coordinator Dr Quentin Groom presents the B-Cubed’s approach towards standardised access to biodiversity data for the use of policy-making at the EBR III conference.

Amongst the other Horizon Europe projects presented at the EBR III conference was B-Cubed (Biodiversity Building Blocks for policy). On Monday, the project’s coordinator Dr Quentin Groom (Meise Botanic Garden) familiarised the conference participants with the project, which aims to standardise access to biodiversity data, in order to empower policymakers to proactively address the impacts of biodiversity change.

You can find more about B-Cubed and Pensoft’s role in it in this blog post.

On the event’s website you can access the B-Cubed’s slides presentation as presented at the EBR III conference.

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Dr France Gerard (UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) talks about the challenges in using raw data – including those provided by drones – to derive habitat condition metrics.

MAMBO: another Horizon Europe project where Pensoft has been contributing with expertise in science communication, dissemination and exploitation, was also an active participant at the event. An acronym for Modern Approaches to the Monitoring of BiOdiversity, MAMBO had its own session on Tuesday morning, where Dr Vincent Kalkman (Naturalis Biodiversity Center), Dr France Gerard (UK Centre for Ecology & Hydrology) and Prof. Toke Høye (Aarhus University) each took to the stage to demonstrate how modern technology developed within the project is to improve biodiversity and habitat monitoring. Learn more about MAMBO and Pensoft’s involvement in this blog post.

MAMBO’s project coordinator Prof. Toke T. Høye talked about smarter technologies for biodiversity monitoring, including camera traps able to count insects at a particular site.

On the event’s website you can access the MAMBO’s slides presentations by Kalkman, Gerard and Høye, as presented at the EBR III conference.

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The EBR III conference also saw a presentation – albeit remote – from Prof. Dr. Florian Leese (Dean at the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany, and Editor-in-Chief at the Metabarcoding and Metagenomics journal), where he talked about the promise, but also the challenges for DNA-based methods to empower biodiversity monitoring. 

Amongst the key tasks here, he pointed out, are the alignment of DNA-based methods with the Global Biodiversity Framework; central push and funding for standards and guidance; publication of data in portals that adhere to the best data practices and rules; and the mobilisation of existing resources such as the meteorological ones. 

Prof. Dr. Florian Leese talked about the promise, but also the challenges for DNA-based methods to empower biodiversity monitoring. He also referred to the 2022 Forum Paper: “Introducing guidelines for publishing DNA-derived occurrence data through biodiversity data platforms” by R. Henrik Nilsson et al.

He also made a reference to the Forum Paper “Introducing guidelines for publishing DNA-derived occurrence data through biodiversity data platforms” by R. Henrik Nilsson et al., where the international team provided a brief rationale and an overview of guidelines targeting the principles and approaches of exposing DNA-derived occurrence data in the context of broader biodiversity data. In the study, published in the Metabarcoding and Metagenomics journal in 2022, they also introduced a living version of these guidelines, which continues to encourage feedback and interaction as new techniques and best practices emerge.

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You can find the programme on the conference website and see highlights on the conference hashtag: #EBR2024.

Don’t forget to also explore the Biodiversity Knowledge Hub for yourself at: https://biodiversityknowledgehub.eu/ 

Discovering Van Gogh in the wild: scientists unveil a new gecko species

Males of the species have a yellow head and forebody and light blue spots on the back and they live in low elevation forests of the Southern Western Ghats.

You’ve probably seen nature depicted in art, but how often do you see an artwork hiding in nature?

When they saw the back of a lizard in the Southern Western Ghats, a group of scientists from the Thackeray Wildlife Foundation in India were reminded of Van Gogh’s The Starry Night. As soon as they figured out it was a new species, it was only apt to name it in honour of the famous painter.

“Cnemaspis vangoghi is named for Dutch painter Vincent Van Gogh (1853–1890) as the striking colouration of the new species is reminiscent of one of his most iconic paintings, The Starry Night,” explains Ishan Agarwal, who took part in the  study to describe the new lizard. Males of the species have a yellow head and forebody and light blue spots on the back and they live among rocks and occasionally buildings and trees.

Photo by Akshay Khandekar. License CC-BY 4.0

Together with his fellow researchers Akshay Khandekar and Tejas Thackeray, they found the new species during an expedition in April 2022 to the the Southern Western Ghats in Tamil Nadu, India. Now, they have published their findings in the peer-reviewed journal ZooKeys.

“Tamil Nadu is an exceptionally biodiverse state and we expect to name well over 50 new species of lizards by the time we are done [with our expeditions]!,” Ishan Agarwal says.

From left to right: Akshay Khandekar, Tejas Thackeray, Swapnil Pawar, Ishan Agarwal, Satpal Gangalmale, Vivek Waghe.

“I also had more than 500 tick bites during that summer trip, with the highest densities in the low-elevation, dry forests of Srivilliputhur, where the new species are found,” he adds.

Cnemaspis vangoghi is a small-sized gecko that can reach 3,4 cm in length. It was described as new to science together with another species of its genus, Cnemaspis sathuragiriensis, named for its type locality the Sathuragiri Hills.

 “The two new species are distributed in low elevation (250–400 m asl.), deciduous forests of Srivilliputhur, and add to the five previously known endemic vertebrates from Srivilliputhur-Megamalai Tiger Reserve, Tamil Nadu, India,” Ishan Agarwal explains. They are diurnal and mainly active during the cool hours of the early morning and evening, found largely on rocks. So far, they have only been found in very restricted localities, “an interesting case of micro-endemism in low-elevation species,” he notes.

Research article:

Khandekar A, Thackeray T, Agarwal I (2024) Two new species of the Cnemaspis galaxia complex (Squamata, Gekkonidae) from the eastern slopes of the southern Western Ghats. ZooKeys 1196: 209-242. https://doi.org/10.3897/zookeys.1196.117947

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Ocean treasures: Two new species from ZooKeys highlighted by WoRMS

Two of 2023’s top marine species were first introduced to the scientific world on the pages of our journal ZooKeys.

Where would we be without taxonomists? We wouldn’t even want to imagine such a scenario, even though experts in taxonomy are declining at an alarming rate, just like some of the threatened species they describe.

This Taxonomist Appreciation Day is a great excuse to marvel at the amazing species that biodiversity specialists continue describing across the globe. The World Register of Marine Species does that by publishing a selection of the top 10 marine species published each year – we’re proud to share with you that two of 2023’s top marine species were first introduced to the scientific world on the pages of our journal ZooKeys!

One of them is Tetranemertes bifrost, a beautiful ribbon worm from the Carribean whose description was published in ZooKeys.

Tetranemertes bifrost

The most spectacularly colored nemertean in the Caribbean, if not the world, it has a long, thin, thread-like body that can stretch much more than 200 mm long. Its head has a characteristic, narrow diamond or spearhead shape, vaguely reminiscent of a viper’s head.

Its name refers to the bright, colorful iridescent stripes and spots characterizing it. Bifrost, the rainbow bridge in the Norse mythology, reaches between Midgard, the human Earth, and Asgard, the realm of the gods. Some authors state that the name Bifrost means “shimmering path” or “the swaying road to heaven”, and that it might be inspired by the Milky Way.

This benthic marine worm usually lives in coral rubble, gravel, and shell hash. It can often be found stretched between nooks and crannies of the substratum.

Tetranemertes bifrost

Found near Bocas del Toro, Panamá, it is one of the first records of this genus in the Carribean sea.

In the 1970s, some 50 years before it was scientifically described, Smithsonian photographer Kjell Sandved took a picture of it draped over an unknown fan coral off Puerto Rico.

The second ZooKeys species featured in the selection is the whimsical Nautilus samoaensis.

Nautilus samoaensis

Nautiloids were in fact quite plentiful throughout the oceans at one point, based upon the fossil record. Today, they are represented by just a handful of species. Nautilus samoaensis and two other species got described as new to science in ZooKeys in early 2023, proving that Nautilus are more diverse than one could think.

Nautilus samoaensis has a beautiful shell; in fact, its shell color pattern is the most unique of all Nautilus species. It is composed of multiple, branching stripes that have a rearward projection after descending from the venter. No other known Nautilus species shows this color pattern. It lives near Pago Pago, American Samoa, where it has been found at depths between 200 and 400 m.

This marine species also ranked second in Pensoft’s Top 10 New Species selection for 2023.

Last year, we told you about the peculiarities of studying nautilus species, but these animals are actually under a serious threat from illegal fishing, as they are highly prized for their shells.

The Top 10 Marine Species is an initiative that brings awareness to the importance of the work of biodiversity scholars, so announcing it on Taxonomist Appreciation Day is only fitting; but it also highlights the need to better protect our oceans and the unique life that hides in there.